Mystic Mondays June 13, 2016
I went on a bike ride Saturday. In my mind I was also preparing for a sermon for Sunday on the place of worship and beauty in our lives. I have felt and said for many years that I feel closest to God (or the Sacred) when I am out on my bike feeling the rhythm of my legs churning, the road rising and falling before me, and the wind caressing my skin like a skilled masseuse. This day may have been the first time that I actually said out loud, “This is how I worship.”
The word worship just means to show reverence or adoration for something–usually a deity. I had no problem in the past sharing that I felt a sort of divine connection while out riding, but to claim it as an act of worship seemed like an exaggerated jump. Yes, cycling certainly takes me to a place beyond mere exercise or enjoyment, but to put it on par with the intentional and ordered liturgy of an actual worship service sounded more like a rationalization of why, if I had a choice, I would rather be cranking my way up a tree-lined mountainside road than leading people in a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer.
But Saturday I felt differently. I suppose the confluence of riding while thinking about a sermon on worship had something to do with. In fact, I am quite sure that was it. About halfway into my 35-mile jaunt it hit me and I repeated “This is how I worship God” over and over again until I had fully accepted that I meant it and that it wasn’t just a ploy to dress up my sermon that was agitating in my head.
Reverence and adoration. Those were the key words. When I lead a worship service I try to create an environment where we all feel a little of that reverence and adoration. I strategically place the hymns to draw out certain emotions or to pitch our hearts and minds into a reverential contemplation. I pray and preach also to draw at these deeper feelings from my parishioners. An order of service on Sundays is all about creating an environment for worship.
That’s when it hit me–that when I am on my bike I don’t have to create the environment to draw out the feelings of reverence and adoration. The environment I am in does that for me. I don’t have the set the stage for worship to emerge. The stage has already been set for me.
I am especially blessed to have lived in two cycling paradises in the last three years. Currently I am living in Southern Oregon in the foothills that connect the Coastal Range with the volcanic range of the Cascades with Crater Lake being our closest mountainous marvel. Before this I was in the lovely little village of Yachats on the Oregon Coast where hundreds of miles of old timber roads snaked their way around the mountains above my house.
On a nearly daily basis I have been living in environments that easily pitch my heart and mind to the place of reverence and adoration (worship, that is). I ride along the Rogue River and watch as blue herons lift off like prehistoric jet planes as they slowly rise to cruising altitude. I often spook deer as I come around a corner and they take one look at me in my florescent spandex and go bounding off into the forest. I marvel at the strength of my body as I crank my way up Onion Mountain and then speed back down Franz Klammer-style as I carve my way around the curves at the maximum speed that my nerves and common sense will allow.
I have probably been conditioned for too long by being raised in the church and having served as a pastor for nearly twenty years. Worship for me has always meant that sixty minute service reserved for singing, prayers, the reading of scripture and the preaching of a good word (hopefully!). Worship was something churches put on. But I feel differently today after my weekend ride while pondering my “Worship and Beauty” sermon: Worship is not an event; it is an attitude. Worship is simply having feelings of reverence and adoration for a Presence that seems to transcend our normal human experience.
I have seen this before. I remember seeing travelers sit at the base of a glacier-fed lake in Yosemite National Park. Not a word was spoken. Everyone sat on their individually chosen boulders and stared at the rugged mountains that towered above the glistening lake. Even the occasional camera shot seemed to violate the sacred trust of the moment. The goodness was almost too much to take in. Reverence and adoration seemed to accompany each person’s every breath.
I have experienced it in song when a singer somehow goes from singing pretty notes and a nice melody to embodying a spirit that transcends them. No longer are they just singing the song, but the song is singing them. And you know it’s happening, because everyone around is feeling the same thing–The quiet hush in the room, the tears emerging from the most sensitive, and the connection between singer and listener that is as unbreakable as two lovers holding hands. Reverence and adoration seem to float in the air like smoke in an overcrowded bar.
I have been there when this worship shows up at the bedside of a dying patient. Conventional wisdom would tell us that this would be the worst place for worship. Who would want to offer words of praise, share feelings of adoration and act reverently as a loved one slips away? Yet I have been there and felt it. Not all deaths are this peaceful, but some families seem to give permission for a Deep and Compassionate Spirit to show up. And when She does reverence and adoration seem to replace the usual feelings of anxiety and fear.
I am convinced now that worship is not a liturgical service. Worship is an attitude. Worship is a way of life. Worship is what people who feel a sense of reverence, awe, respect and adoration for life do. Worship is our way of saying “Thank you.”